Tag Archives: Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Precise Enchantments: The Art of Trevor Winkfield

Winkfield #3

Trevor Winkfield, Her Pines, His Pineapple (2005), acrylic on linen, 24-1/4″ x 32-1/4″; courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery

* * *

My review of Georges Braque & Others: The Selected Writings of Trevor Winkfield, 1990-2009, published by The Song Cave, will be appearing in an upcoming issue of The New Criterion. In the meantime, here’s a piece on Winkfield the painter from the November 1, 1999 edition of The New York Observer.

The painter Trevor Winkfield is, in more ways than one, an oddity. In an art world overpopulated by careerists with a gimmick and theorists with a beef, Mr. Winkfield has steadfastly pursued his art without recourse to formula or fashion. At a time when glib appropriations of popular culture permeate almost every facet of contemporary art, Mr. Winkfield transforms pop-inflected imagery into something personal and rooted. In a gallery scene renowned for its sophomoric high jinks, Mr. Winkfield’s art is endowed with a wit that is keen and dry.

His work looks nothing like the major art we’ve come to expect from the standard surveys of late twentieth-century culture. Mr. Winkfield’s pictures can, in fact, look marginal. Yet he’s one of our most distinctive painters. Which goes to prove that the margins are where the action is.

Walking into an exhibition of Mr. Winkfield’s paintings is to enter a dotty and rambunctious cosmos. It is a world that is as complex as it is concentrated as it is comical. The paintings are absurd and logical, dizzying and sober, nostalgic and up-to-date. They remind us of how uncommon true artistic vision is.

In describing Mr. Winkfield’s canvases, one is tempted to dust off the cliche of “everything but the kitchen sink.” This metaphor, however, is wanting and wrong. In Mr. Winkfield’s pictures, no object or motif is superfluous. Each of the artist’s heraldic doohickeys, however transmuted, has a formal and iconographic import. There’s not a wasted moment in his paintings, even if every moment is a veritable cornucopia of flux and incident. For all I know, the artist has given the kitchen sink an indispensable place in his oeuvre.

Trevor Winkfield

Trevor Winkfield, Frolic II (2009), acrylic on linen, 12″ x 12″; courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery

* * *

Winkfield’s canvases are hard-edged and clean, colorful and cartoonish. They’re divided into abutting geometric planes, within which a trans-historical array of stuff rollicks and tilts. Tubes of paint, ice cream cones, brushes, fish, pipes, beakers filled with color, postcards, bubbles, books and kitsch landscapes are a few of the items featured in the artist’s absurdist dioramas.

A Winkfield canvas may resemble some kind of arcane game board; another may recall a stash of notes, photos and oddments affixed to a refrigerator door or the wall of an artist’s studio. Imagine the archetypal depictions of royalty in a deck of cards put through a slicer-dicer along with Kasimir Malevich, Yellow Submarine, children’s book illustrations, healthy dollops of Dada and Surrealism and one gets a hint of what Mr. Winkfield’s art entails. He makes precise enchantments out of cosmopolitan clutter.

Mr. Winkfield delineates his topsy-turvy compendiums with a patently emphatic touch. When he approximates the grainy texture of a newspaper photograph, it’s not only a play on the quotidian nature of everyday images, but a droll addendum to his distilled and deliberate paint handling. Mr. Winkfield orchestrates his imagery within a kaleidoscopic structure that amplifies its pictorial punning.

 In Ice Cream (1999), he transforms a Suprematist scaffolding into a lumbering drizzle of rain. The artist’s jokes expand geometrically and take on unexpected guises. Mr. Winkfield’s style doesn’t settle for one-liners.

Trevor #1

Trevor Winkfield, The Gallery (2012), acrylic on canvas, 49″ x 44″; courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery

* * *

Mr. Winkfield has sharpened his art by all but becoming an abstract painter. It’s evident that he’s profited from looking at classic geometric abstraction, although what Mr. Winkfield does with neo-plasticism (and color) would have given Mondrian conniptions. The recent still-life paintings are his most integrated and accomplished canvases.

This doesn’t mean that he’s immune to the occasional dud. Studio Still Life (1999) is a flat-footed cataloguing of curiosities, and Mr. Winkfield’s less complicated images feel designed rather than inhabited. But pictures like Ice Cream, Trophy (both 1999) and Still Life With Fish II (1998) hold tight without sacrificing an iota of Mr. Winkfield’s discombobulated vigor.  The artist’s maturing powers as a painter have bolstered his art by forsaking bits-and-pieces specificity for the fulsomeness of an encompassing whole.

In Mr. Winkfield’s paintings we get a reflection, albeit as seen through a fun house mirror, of our own overextended epoch.  Mr. Winkfield isn’t necessarily s a history painter, but who could fail to recognize the pace and fragmentation of the late 20th century in these rebus-like pictures? And who doesn’t recognize the delightfully befuddling logic Mr. Winkfield has made of it?

His elaborate tinkerings with history, culture and memory encapsulate our chaotic era while pointing forward, looking back and getting sidetracked by bizarre and revealing byways. Mr. Winkfield’s is an art of reach, optimism and cheek.

©  1999 Mario Naves

A version of this article originally appeared in the November 1, 1999 edition of The New York Observer.

John Ashbery: Recent Collages at Tibor de Nagy Gallery

John Ashbery, Promontory (2010), collage and digitalized print, 13″ x 7-3/4″; courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery

* * *

What I know about poetry I know from my poet friends, and what they say about the poet John Ashbery is never less than fond and often more than querulous. Ashbery, a self-described “harebrained, homegrown surrealist whose poetry defies even the rules and logic of surrealism,” seems to share this equivocal response.

What I do know is that Ashbery defies the rules and logic of art criticism. Whether working as a critic for Newsweek or a more specialized forum like Partisan Review, Ashbery proved peculiarly simpatico to the travails and successes—the “inside business,” as it were—of the visual artist. Palling around with the painters Fairfield Porter and Leland Bell probably accounts for Ashbery’s sensitivity; so do four years of art lessons.

How much of a commendation can it be, then, to tout Ashbery’s collages, on display at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, as a dilettante’s gift? There’s no doubting Ashbery’s sophistication; his whimsical works on paper channel Max Ernst’s collage novels, Anne Ryan’s intimate accumulations of paper, string and fabric and Joseph Cornell’s unseemly lyricism.

John Ashbery, Egyptian Landscape (2009-2010), collage and digitalized print, 12-1/2″ x 9″; courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery

* * *

But his collages don’t have a serious (or ambitious) bone in their collective bits and pieces. Coasting on the goodwill of artistic precedent, Ashbery is constitutionally unassuming; the work is airy, all but disposable. Don’t count on anything as epochal as Ernst’s The Hundred Headless Women or as tender as Ryan’s plainspoken grit. And forget Cornell—nobody’s that good. What Ashbery offers is the pleasure taken in making pictures because, well, that’s what a body can do.

Reconfiguring vintage postcards, comic strips and magazines, Ashbery creates dioramas in which Icarus descends into Yellowstone Park, Bosch’s Tower of Babel is a boy’s pillow and Popeye the Sailor Man serves as leader of a cadre of pissing totems. Ashbery isn’t always so winning; the conglomerations of game boards and Life magazine covers are more akin to scrapbooking than an admirer would like to admit. But mostly the poet indulges his light touch for cheery distraction, for moments so ephemeral, silly and mild that we can’t help but be grateful for the wry respite they proffer.

© 2011 Mario Naves

Originally published in the November 29, 2011 edition of City Arts.

Susanna Coffey at Tibor de Nagy

Susanna Coffey, Stream (2003), oil on canvas, 12″ x 15″; courtesy the artist

The horrors of 9/11 are not the explicit subject of Susanna Coffey’s paintings at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, though scenes of a city under siege do serve as the backdrop for her continuing exploration of self-portraiture. The events of that day have been transformed in her art into something else–but what that something else might be is difficult to grasp.

Anyone familiar with her oeuvre knows that Ms. Coffey is all about resistance. She’s both an ideologue and a pure painter and neither of those things: She trades in absolutes only to deny them. This makes for frustrating art. It also makes for pictures that stick, like a burr, in the memory.

Learning that the paintings are based on newspaper photos of the war in Iraq doesn’t help: try locating a political stance and you’ll be thwarted. If Ms. Coffey, wearing a camouflage tank top and bathing cap, seems despondent in Conveyance (2003), she’s serene when surrounded by explosions and fire in Stream (2003).  These paintings run the risk of exploiting events whose importance will inevitably overshadow whatever’s on the canvas, yet the gravity of Ms. Coffey’s purpose–of her mood, really–is unmistakable.

The war pictures (if we can call them that) are, oddly enough, conduits for reverie, simultaneously discomfiting, soothing and convoluted. Their stark, theatrical intensity makes the more typical self–portraits-passive-aggressive meditations on identity–look a trifle silly (though their pithiness as painting is inarguable).

Ms. Coffey wouldn’t be the first person to open up to the world only as it threatens to descend into disarray. Perhaps that’s what accounts for the subtle shift from negation to some semblance of acceptance. Ms. Coffey remains a problematic figure; if only other artists would present us with puzzles so intricate and true.

© 2003

Originally published in the November 9, 2003 edition of The New York Observer.